“Pani Stefa” by Magdalena Kicińska, “Uprawa roślin południowych metodą Miczurina” by Weronika Murek, “Dom z witrażem” by Żanna Słoniowska, “Sensu sens” by Marek Adamik and “O pochodzeniu łajdaków, czyli opowieści z metra” by Tomasz Wiśniewski nominated for this year’s Conrad Award. The author of the best debut of 2015 will receive a monetary prize of 30 000 PLN, combined with an opportunity to participate in a month-long residence stay in Krakow and a commemorative statuette; all nominees will be also able to promote themselves during the next Conrad Festival and in “Tygodnik Powszechny”.
The winner will be chosen by the readers themselves, through a vote cast via the Festival’s website. The award will be presented on the 30th of October during the Conrad Gala, concluding the 8th edition of the Festival.
Last year, the Conrad Award was granted for the first time. The readers are attracted to it partially because of its democratic nature – the laureate is selected from among the jury’s nominees in an on-line vote by the readers themselves. And a year ago, Liliana Hermetz thanked the “mysterious readers” for making it possible for her book to win.
“In order to be popular among the readers, one has either to die, to be a foreign writer or to write perversely. The best way is to be a foreign, perverse dead man”, said Julian Tuwim. However, these criteria are not met by any of the five nominees selected by the Jury: Michał Paweł Markowski (president of the Jury), Urszula Chwalba, Inga Iwasiów, Grzegorz Jankowicz, Zofia Król, Michał Nogaś, Krzysztof Koehler, Joanna Szulborska-Łukasiewicz (secretary). Despite that, they already have their literary following and their books, in spite of being published only in the last year, already gained popularity. It is not easy to be a debutant, but in recent years the situation on the market has been changing, partly because of the Conrad Award. Its goal is not only to support the authors, but also to promote young prose in order to stimulate the publishing market, so that it becomes more open to debuts and new novels.
The writers selected by the Jury were already nominated for numerous literary prizes, and aware of their artistic choices. The first laureate, Weronika Marek, said. “I’m bored with transcribing the world, the precise, draughtsman-like tracing of its contours. My hand always itches terribly with the temptation to add something new to reality, some extra element here or there”. Everything is possible in the stories she creates out of the strange, overheard language, and the interesting title – “The Cultivation of Southern Plants Using the Michurin Method” – is only a foretaste of what awaits the reader inside the book.
The prose of another of the nominees, Tomasz Wiśniewski, contains many “extra elements”. It will be accompanied by a protagonist, who is both heroic and pragmatic, a combination of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in one, summing up the surrounding reality with irony in his voice. “Everyone can do everything: post-graduate students can empty septic tanks, writers may leisurely sit on stools at supermarket cash registers, and ministers of culture can also be butchers – there is no limit!”. The author of “On the Origin of Scoundrels, or Stories from the Metro” draws upon the tradition of surrealism. Grotesque, irony, a sense of absurd and a great dose of humour – all of this makes the literary miniatures by Wiśniewski the best solution for reality in these difficult times.
“The Sense of Sense” by Marek Adamik is a book created along with the author’s fight for his life. It is not only a journal of a disease, but also a struggle with the language to find words to express the personal experience. The author willingly departs from the confession style, values the writing discipline and finds a unique way to tell the story of his own suffering. As he himself said: “The first version had a thousand pages and was filled with pain”. Adamik emphasises, that his book is primarily for people with a diagnosis, no matter what kind. “I decided not to focus on the atrocities that happened to me while in a hospital”, he added. Agnieszka Holland said about the book that “The whole book – with its graphic layout, with the illustrations – becomes a kind of work of art, an artefact”.
“Mrs Stefa” by Magdalena Kicińska is a story of Stefania Wilczyńska, a character brought out from the shadows. She was the co-founder of the House of Orphans in Warsaw and a close partner of Janusz Korczak, which partially contributed to her disappearance. “She lived in such a way, we hardly knew anything about her”, said Shlomo Nadel, one of the orphans. “She left nothing, like she never existed”. Building a biography out of nothing – postcards, photographs and traces of the past is quite a challenge. And thus a story was created, still shrouded in mysteries and uncertainties, but certainly intriguing.
“The House with the Stained-Glass Window” by Żanna Słoniowska is a story of four generations of women – great-grandmother, mother, grandmother and daughter – whose fates are connected by one of the flats in a townhouse in the centre of Lviv. This family saga, spanning four generations, combines historical and political issues. Thus it allows for a multi-level insight into the past and the present of the city. The cover of the book reads: “During the process of writing of this book, the blood shed for the free Ukraine was still a fiction; in February 2014 it ceased to be such.”
This year’s nominations for the Conrad Award are very diverse – a full-fledged novel and a collection of surrealist miniatures, oneiric poetic prose, intimate narration and biography. The authors create in various registers and genres – from confession through documentary and a novel based on history, to fantastic and surrealist propositions. Regardless of their attachment to realism, the debutants masterfully comment on the reality – the direct one and the one perceived in historic context. They reflect it faithfully or transform it, showing it in a distorting mirror. They use diverse styles – from a parsimonious and raw to a literary experiment.
Their varying distance towards the past and the relation to their own experiences, as well as language – it all connects and distinguishes this year’s debutants, and allows us to hear the multi-faceted reality through their books.
This year’s nominees will participate in everyday meetings during the festival.
The award is funded and organised by the City of Krakow.
Partners: Krakow Festival Office, Book Institute, Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation